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Radulov lands in Dallas

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

A year ago the Montreal Canadiens took a leap of faith hoping that Alexander Radulov had grown up and was a viable NHLer in signing him to a low-risk one-year deal.

It was, by any measure, a roaring success.

This summer the narrative takes on a significantly different tenor as the Dallas Stars are banking five years of term and $31.25 million in salary that Radulov is more than just ready to be an NHLer once more. Specifically they're gambling that the big winger might even become the missing piece to a Stanley Cup puzzle.

Certainly Radulov, who admitted on Monday after signing with the Stars that he'd initially hoped to stay long-term in Montreal, felt Dallas had enough significant offseason moves to make his decision to sign up for the next five years a relative no-brainer.

And it's clear the Stars thought enough of Radulov that they pulled out all the stops in selling the big winger on the opportunities that await him in Texas.

"You always want to play on the team that has a chance to win," Radulov said during a conference call Monday afternoon. "I really saw that in Dallas."

"You can see that team really wants to build the team and win," he added.

Radulov spoke to GM Jim Nill during the interview window leading up to July 1 and the opening of the free agent market. And he spoke at least twice to head coach Ken Hitchcock.

Radulov also spoke with captain Jamie Benn before deciding that Dallas would be his new hockey home.

"We talked for 10 minutes and he told me about the team, about the guys, about the city and I really liked it," Radulov said. "We talk about different things," he added, "about the game."

The delightfully candid Radulov admitted he hoped Montreal would come up with an offer that would keep him in Montreal for the long haul but it didn't happen. After he'd agreed to the five-year deal with the Stars Radulov said Montreal approached his agent about a matching offer but Radulov said he'd committed to Dallas and wouldn't renege on that commitment.

"It wouldn't be fair and it wouldn't be right," he said. "If you take it you take it. There's no way back right."

Everyone assumes that Radulov, who had 18 goals and 54 points in 76 regular season games and added seven more points in a six-game, first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers, will line up alongside Benn and top center Tyler Seguin next fall.

And it may yet turn out to be the perfect fit. But the bottom line is that Radulov becomes the team's top right-winger regardless of whom he ends up playing with.

Head coach Ken Hitchcock said the key element of Radulov's game is his willingness to compete and his ability to control the puck, especially down low, in the offensive zone.

"He's going to have a major influence on our players' compete level just by the way he plays the game," Hitchcock said Monday.

He competes for the puck as well as anyone in the NHL, Hitchcock added.

Former NHLer and national analyst Mike Rupp loved the passion Radulov showed last season in Montreal.

"To me he played pissed off," Rupp said.

Was that because he didn't his due with just a one-year deal in Montreal, Rupp wondered?

"And now that he got paid is he still going to play pissed off?" Rupp asked.

If the Radulov of last season is the Radulov the Stars are getting moving forward Rupp thinks the sky's the limit for Dallas.

"Obviously I think that that's a team they've got to be leading the pack as far as rewriting the script for their team from last season," Rupp said.

Nill has known Radulov since he was an emerging young talent as a teen ultimately playing for Patrick Roy in Quebec in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Nill, too, is enticed by the options Radulov presents for Hitchcock and his coaching staff.

"I just know in our conversations he was very committed to coming to us," Nill said. "He liked what's happening here."

After a disastrous 2016-17 campaign that saw the Stars drop 30 points in the standings and finish out of the playoffs Nill has swiftly move to add key pieces that seemingly address most if not each of the team's major shortcomings including adding a big, skilled winger in Radulov.

Is there risk involved in this signing? Which free agent acquisition of any import doesn't carry a burden of risk?

But to be sure, investing in a soon to be 31-year-old (Radulov's birthday is Wednesday) who is just one year into a return to the NHL after a tumultuous and sometimes controversial start to his career, to the tune of $6.25 million on average for five years ups the risk quotient exponentially.

But the reviews on Radulov in his NHL homecoming in Montreal last season were so positive that Nill felt comfortable in accepting that risk.

"We made some calls on him," Nill said. "Everybody raved about him. Raved about his personality."

"I was so impressed," the GM added. "He's got a great personality. I love where he's at in his life."

The Radulov narrative is well known, at least the initial chapters of that narrative. After being made the 15th overall pick in the 2004 draft by Nashville Radulov had two solid seasons for the Predators before returning to Russia where he played in the Kontinental Hockey League for four seasons.

He returned to a strong Nashville team for the 2012 playoffs, but was involved in a highly publicized curfew issue in the second round against Phoenix and was benched by then head coach Barry Trotz.

He returned to the KHL until last off-season when he signed a one-year deal with Montreal.

What seemed to be lost in much of the debate over whether Radulov could be a good citizen was that fact Radulov had matured, grown wiser, become a family man.

The almost universally positive reviews on his performance on the ice and his demeanor off the ice seem to suggest that whatever happened in the past had little to do with his present. Certainly, Nill is hoping it has nothing to do with the future.

Everyone makes mistakes, "he admits that," Nill said. "But he's moved on from that and matured. We're getting a more mature player now and someone who wants to win."

Is it too early to begin discussing the Dallas Stars not just in terms of returning to the playoffs but in terms of being a Stanley Cup contender?

More than three months removed from the start of the 2017-18 season such talk is worth its weight in feathers. That's the reality of an NHL where never has the line between winning and losing been finer.

But with the addition of Ken Hitchcock as head coach and recent acquisitions of starting netminder Ben Bishop, top four defenseman Marc Methot, free agent center Martin Hanzal and now Radulov, it's fair to suggest the expectation meter is now in a completely different place than it was as recently as a few days ago.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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